For more than a thousand years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ it was assumed that a great deluge of water destroyed almost all life on Earth. The story in the Bible of a destructive punishment against a violent people, with only a handful of survivors, was looked on as part of history. Noah and his family were considered real people who built a real boat and safely rested on the top of a Mountain top. The children of this great prophet who believed to have had children and repopulated the world with people and animals. Religious believers looked around at the world around them and saw evidence in the rocks and the landscape. They would point to massive boulders, for instance, and explain that only a great rush of water could move them to where they now rested. No one at first questioned these conclusions.
Religious investigators continued to study geology with the hope of understanding the Great Flood until the mid-19th Century a new concept became popular. A number of influential researchers developed the theory of uniformity. They believed that whatever happened in the past can only be understood by applying modern observations. In order for geological evidence to make sense the processes of nature must have taken many millions of years at a very slow pace. From this came the key to the theory of Evolution and the rejection of any worldwide deluge evidence. The very idea of a violent catastrophe that changed the Earth’s history was unacceptable. Changes in the Earth and its life was slow, gradual, and easy to observe.
A generation later the idea of uniformity is still accepted, but with very abrupt disruptions. Modern geologists talk of at least five extinctions that can only happen because of major catastrophes. Some even argue that humans themselves are causing a sixth extinction, although with varied theories on when it will be fully realized. The most famous life destroying catastrophe is a meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs. Like all theories it was at first rejected, but eventually enough evidence was found to be accepted by most scientists. There is even a crater off the coast of Mexico that is considered the exact place the celestial object hit that did the damage. A geological layer of clay containing high levels of the metal iridium is believed to represent the exact time of impact. Even the Great Flood is, to a degree, getting a second look.
Traditional Believer Theories
Regardless of what modern geologists say, believers who read the Bible as strictly literal claim there is evidence for a flood that covered every inch of land at once. They point to what is called the Great Unconformity as the time when the flood waters encompassed the globe. Scientists generally agree with them, but a very long time ago and for millions of years as an ice sheet. Traditional believers also say that the uniformity of sedimentary layering all over the world is a result of flood waters receding. As the waters drain off the land, they leave behind the accumulation of debris ripped from the surface by the high powered flooding. Great swaths of land with a similar stone composition represent the decrease in water depths. Places such as the Grand Canyon were formed by the hasty retreat of flood waters ripping out the land mass in its path.
The fossil record itself is to the traditional believer evidence of a vast worldwide flood. First, they see no evidence of evolution with incontestable transition fossils. The animals are complex and fully formed, with any similarity a part of natural pattern structure. Another point they make is the vast majority of fossils are aquatic animals found both in the high mountains and low valleys. Fossils of land animals can also be found among the aquatic sedimentary layers. They also point to the fact that the first layers of fossils are exclusively aquatic, meaning the first to be washed up and deposited. After that, the larger animals that were swept away get deposited by the water retreat. Finally, any humans or animals that tried to run from the flood to higher elevations were placed on the top stratification.
Tempting as all of this might be to accept as a possibility, there are some major problems. Mainstream geology doesn’t have perfect understanding, but the traditional flood theories break down in the details Stratification can be better explained by less catastrophic processes such as river inundation as sediment is deposited during seasonal high and low flows. Volcanic activity can spread ash over very long distances over centuries of activity. It is true that the first fossils are aquatic, but there is a very organized pattern as to the type of animals found in each layer. Assuming that the fossil record was put down because of retreating water, there should be a far more mixed variation of what is found together. Large mammals and humans are not found with the dinosaur bones. Those animals that are found among the aquatic sediment are few and can be explained as washing out to sea or floating down rivers near where they died. It can even be argued that dying near the water made it possible for them to be preserved as they get covered by mud washing over them.
Not even the anomalies used by traditional believers are without explanation. Mountains are formed by tectonic plates ramming into each other, causing the flat land to rise. The reason aquatic fossils can be found high up in them is the land was once flat and under water. It can be determined, for instance, that for a very long time the middle of North America was split in half with a shallow sea in the middle. Of course, as explained no human remains intermingle with the dinosaur fossil layers in any way. Tools and animals with arrowhead injuries are nonexistent. Dinosaurs and humans never mixed. Those rare contested discoveries of human footprints alongside dinosaur bones happen to be displacement zones. Uplift or erosion contribute to the illusion of mixed geological levels. No matter how easy and thrilling it is to reinterpret geologic science to conform to a worldwide flood (as an open mind should), the detailed observations are not in support. There must be other alternatives to the Biblical flood narrative that still accepts it as an actual event.
Local Apocalypse Theories
The science of modern geology concluded that no Great Flood that covered the whole world had any evidence. Until newer discoveries, the Bible was considered the oldest book. Despite this, scholars did not see it as a reliable historical guide. Discoveries of much older Mesopotamia writings in 1849 would shock both Biblical believers and critics alike. Excavations by scholars wanting a better understanding of the Bible through archeology unearthed the great Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, named after an ancient Assyrian king. It contained more than thirty-thousand small clay tablets written in wedge shaped cuneiform, mostly related to matters of business and government. Among them was an astonishing heroic narrative poem named The Epic of Gilgamesh that contained a Great Flood similar to the Bible story. Scholars grabbed on to this as evidence that the Bible writers borrowed from Babylonian elements while in captivity. Believers saw this as evidence that the Bible had outside and early witnesses.
As more Great Flood stories were recognized around the world, it became harder to dismiss them as complete fiction. Scholars began speculating that the Mesopotamian flood stories were about the annual overflow of major rivers. Other stories were looked at differently as well, trying to tie them into local disasters. For example, the story from China of the legendary first Emperor Yu who controlled worldwide flood waters by building dams and canals was theorized as a real event. The myth of Yu saving the people of the land is attributed to a B.C. 1920 flood outburst of Jishi Gorge along the Yellow River. An earthquake caused a landslide that blocked river flow. Large volumes of water built up behind the landmass until it burst through as a devastating flood. According to the theory it took years to recover, eventually helping to start an empire. How much is myth and how much historical is still up for debate, just like the Bible and other stories.
Because the other flood myths were taken more seriously, the Biblical and Mesopotamian Great Flood was started to be reexamined. A possible breakthrough came in 1997 when geologists Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman, among other researchers, theorized a B.C. 6800 climactic flood of water in the Mediterranean Black Sea devastated the surrounding area of land. The rocky sill of the Bosporus Strait kept back rising water from melting ice age glaciers filling up oceans and seas. Eventually the water gushed over the sill and into the Black Sea in a large fast moving current, sweeping away the land and leaving a new layer of sediment. This great flood of water drove people out and expanded the size of the sea to what it is today. The people then remembered the disaster in stories handed down generations until written down.
Not everyone, Bible believer or scholar, agrees with the Black Sea flood theory. For many believers it is too easy an explanation that ignores the many events the Bible relates. It doesn’t acknowledge the world transforming apocalypse included in The Great Flood of the Noah narrative. The proposed flood simply is too small and localized. Studies by other geologists claim the rising water was too slow and not high enough to be a great risk. Plenty of time remained, according to them, for the people to get up and leave without much difficulty. Criticisms aside, this still remains the best possible explanation for many who don’t accept a worldwide flood while adhering to the story as historical.
The Great Ice Melt
Evidence for a completely land covering Great Flood and a localized Mesopotamian version both seem inadequate competitors to a number of people. Some other event has to account for widespread mythology, the narrative of human destruction, and still have scientific relevance. A group of researchers outside the mainstream looking for the mythical city of Atlantic have come up with their own theory tied to the Bible flood narrative. They believe that comets hit the last great glacial ice sheets, melting them and wiping out ancient advanced civilizations. Certainly there are similarities between Plato’s Atlantis and the Bible worldwide flood themes. According to Greek philosopher Plato in his dialogues, and the only source for the story, a city named Atlantis was once advanced and peaceful. The people of Atlantis became wicked and violently conquered others. Eventually powerful earthquakes toppled the city, sending it into the depths of the sea. The Bible also says that violence was the reason for the flood, although not among only one group of people. The flood devastation is not considered by these researchers as covering all the earth or localized, but still a universal experience.
Scholars have rejected most of their theories, but hints of possible evidence is available. The long held belief in geological uniformity and gradualism was partly challenged by a lone geologist in the American Northwest. Geologists insisted that the rock history of Earth could be determined by current observations. Any changes in the landscape came from a very slow process, and catastrophes were nothing more than fiction. Noted geologist J. Harlen Bretz in the 1920s studied the Eastern Washington scablands, formed by erosion. He argued that the basalt deposit erosion could only be explained by immense water flow. That meant a high rate of flooding in the area. For other geologists that aligned too close to the discredited Great Flood narrative, and they rejected his findings. Throughout his life he was resisted and challenged at every turn, until he was accepted in 1979 by the wider geological community for his work. The ice age Atlantis meteor theorists point to his discoveries as an explanation of what might have happened to that lost mythical city.
The mysterious end to the ice age called The Younger Dryas seems a likely candidate for the time of The Great Flood, with the Washington scablands a clue to the puzzle. For many years no one understood where all the water for the flooded scablands came from, until it was proposed that a glacial ice sheet burst. The mainstream theory is that melt water from an ancient lake named Missoula broke through and reshaped the land to what now exists. A sudden flood of cold water is also used to explain why the temperature drastically drops for a thousand years after a warming period. The Younger Dryas meteor impact theorists claim large chunks of a disintegrating asteroid or comet slammed into the earth, causing huge fires and glacial melting with intense flooding. They point to “black mats” of sediment for fires, metallic microspheres, nanodiamonds, and iridium and platinum increased ratios for meteoric impacts. Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley in his Book of Mormon lecture series also proposed that a celestial impact contributed to The Great Flood event, without mention of The Young Dryas cooling. Most mainstream scholars reject the evidence as inconsistent and unreproducible, although that doesn’t dismiss the wide spread glacial and climatic changes.
Another possible hint that the Younger Dryas was when The Great Flood occurred is the extinction of large animals and some human cultures. North America is the most dramatic for humans with the disappearance of the hunter-gatherer Clovis culture. At least seventy five percent of megafauna became extinct, including wooly mammoths, sabretooth tigers, giant ground sloth, dire wolf, and many more. Some scholars have argued humans did overhunting to extinction, but there is conflicting evidence. Other arguments are made that the animals were already in decline or too many died out in a short amount of time for human interference. What cannot be refuted is by the end of the Younger Dryas the megafauna no longer existed. World history changed significantly following the rapid warming period that continues today. Domestication of plants and animals arose independently across North America, Europe, Asia, and other places. Over time the hunter-gatherer societies became domesticated, forming organized civilization.
An Ice Age glacial melting cataclysm might not have covered the whole landmass of the Earth, but it would have spread water all over the world. Land near the glacial floods would completely be covered, while the drainage into the oceans would raise sea levels hundreds of miles inland. Rivers would swell and spill over in wide, deep, and dramatic fashion. It could be described something like the church of the Lamb of God in 1 Nephi 14:12 who were seen, “upon all the face of the earth,” and yet, “their dominions upon the face of the earth were small.” The two Hebrew words kol erets used in the Bible flood narrative is more properly translated “all land” or “all country.” Use of the word “earth” is a modern generalized translation. The whole world that humans knew would be covered in water, although not every inch of land. Genesis chapter 8:9 states, “for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth,” after landing the Ark on the plural mountains of Ararat and seeing other mountains. When the dove return after finding dry land, it holds an olive leaf for verification. Soon after it says in Genesis 9 that Noah planted vineyards for wine. Neither of these would be possible if the whole earth was covered in very high water without hundreds of years to recover the soil. The Ice Age Younger Dryas melts would contain a quick and devastating series of mass flooding covering wherever humans settled. At the same time, inland areas located away from glacial melts and overflowing floods would have heavy rainfall, but recover quickly.
All of these are only theories, with no absolute evidence. What they all have in common is hints that The Great Flood found in the Bible is no longer completely unbelievable. However, the Younger Dryas rapid glacial melt and cooling period seems to be the most reasonable match, with or without space collisions. Perhaps believers have more on their side than what used to be assumed.